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CEOs place sustainability in top 10 business priorities for first time, study shows

The pandemic is said to have brought a number of deep societal trends to the surface, such as a desire to change the way we work and the fragility of long-distance global supply chains

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CEOs and senior executives are changing the way they think about sustainability and inflation for 2022, a recent survey from Gartner has revealed.

The analyst house found, for the first time ever, that CEOs are placing environmental sustainability in their top 10 business priorities, while issues such as talent retention have moved up the list for the second year in a row.

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Over 400 CEOs and other senior business executives were quizzed between July and December 2021, across North America, EMEA and APAC, and across different industries, and revenue and company sizes.

Announcing the findings, Gartner research vice president Mark Raskino described 2022 as “the year that CEO perspectives truly changed”.

“The pandemic gradually brought a number of deep societal trends to the surface, such as a desire to change the way we work and the fragility of long-distance global supply chains,” he said. “More recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is amplifying macroeconomic factors that CEOs must now deal with, such as inflation.

“Simultaneously, however, CEOs’ digital business ambition continues to rise, unabated by the pandemic and related crises.”

Among these ambitions is the desire to become more environmentally friendly. For the first time in the survey’s history, environmental sustainability entered the top priorities for CEOs in 8th position.

In fact, 74% agreed that increasing environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts attract investors towards their businesses. Of the 80% who intend to invest in new or improved products over the next two years, environmental sustainability was cited as the largest driver

The issue has even ramped up in importance to the same level as brand trust in terms of competitive differentiators, Gartner said.

“As business leaders feel the pressure from key stakeholders to do more on environmental sustainability, they are now treating the needed changes as opportunities to drive business efficiency and revenue growth,” Raskino explained.

In terms of technology, artificial intelligence (AI) topped the pile as the most impactful tech in the eyes of CEOs for the third year in a row – but the metaverse is seen as either not applicable or very unlikely to be a factor by 63% of those surveyed.

“In the past, some CEOs have embraced new technology ideas perhaps a little too enthusiastically,” explained Raskino. “In the case of the metaverse, however, it’s doubtful the respondents who think it very likely to be a key technology for their business are as confident as they appear to be.”

Elsewhere, 62% of CEOs said general price inflation is a persistent or long-term issue. The top response among respondents is to raise prices (51%), as opposed to focusing on productivity and efficiency (22%) – the latter not even registering in the top 10 business priorities for 2022. 

“Clearly, there is some complacency around inflation impact,” Raskino continued. “When asked about the top two sources of competitive differentiation, only 3% of CEOs mentioned price. Gartner expects that may change quite quickly as inflation continues to bite.”

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